After reading Thabiti Anyabwile’s excellent post, W.E. DuBois Would Not Vote In This Election, I decided it is time to revisit the topic of “not voting”. I will do so to the backdrop of Thabiti’s insightful thoughts. Thabiti’s post is dead-on, courageous, and very helpful. And it reflects my thoughts precisely.
The Central Issue
Let me be clear, I am not against voting.
I am, however:
- Against ethical relativism in the polls (while I acknowledge no candidate is perfect and we shouldn’t have impossible standards, we should have standards when we vote ). As Thabiti said: “I know there are no perfect candidates, but I do know there are perfect principles”.
- Against being pressured into voting for someone primarily for ANY reason other than direct support that person’s character, policies, and plans. As Thabiti says of DuBois, “He insisted that voters ought to have a more compelling reason for casting their lot than ‘this guy isn’t as bad as the other guy.’”
So, in other words, I would not vote for El Duce merely because he’d do less damage that Hitler. Even if it means that that would help Hitler get elected. If El Duce and Hitler are the options, every responsible citizen would refrain from the vote. And, further down stream, I will not vote for one of two nincompoops. If the rest of the populace wants to participate in the nincompoop vote, that is their decision.
I would say that everyone has a civic (and moral) duty, at some point along the gradations of evil, to call foul and not vote. Choosing a nincompoop to be a leader, however, is NEVER fundamentally ones civic duty.
It’s not that I think too lightly of voting, it’s that I want voting to be a MORE serious thing.
The Shame Factor
If you speak of your plan to not vote, prepare to be shamed. You’ll be told you can’t complain, that you’re a bad citizen, a bad Christian, irresponsible, helping the Bad Guy(tm) get in, etc. But don’t lose heart. History is usually on your side.
Take Canada. I’m pro-life. To many conservative Christians, it is totally implied that you must vote for whoever is against abortion.
A while ago I stopped voting for the Conservative party. When I stopped voting for the conservatives, while nobody came right out and said it, some may have mildly implied that I was hurting the pro-life cause. It didn’t take long for my decision to be vindicated (in my eyes, at least), Present events have shown that the very leader that I could have theoretically been shamed into voting for, is presently taking specific actions to prevent his parties reps from even raising the question of whether the fetus is a human being according to the law. I do not at all regret not voting for him for many reasons.
On a slightly different note, there is a lot of irony in how quick people are to call non-voters “irresponsible”.
In a previous post back in 2011, I observed that it is “quite ironic that a zealous politico could look at a man or woman who loves their spouse, cares for their family, is successful and innovative in business, faithful to their friends, faithful to their convictions, generous and involved in their church and/or other organizations and yet who doesn’t vote, and declare them as a ‘bad citizen’ and ‘helping the bad party get in’ and ‘not allowed to complain’.”
A Fundamental Truth That Is Often Ignored
Not voting conveys many things. Let me present one way it can help. Not voting is the flip side of voting. It is a withholding of consent. If the voters of one party start abstaining, eventually that party is going to get a message by losing ground. And that will be their opportunity to improve. And if they don’t improve, then what are you doing wanting to vote for them anyways?
Put differently, if your preferred “lesser of the two evils” party feels that they are going to get your vote no matter what, don’t expect them to improve any time in the near future. If the party knows they are guaranteed the vote of a large segment of the population by default, you should expect them to continue to field mediocre (or, worse yet, atrocious) candidates.
In many cases parties with a strong base (let’s say the Republican Party with Evangelicals in the U.S.) know they can get away with a lot and therefore have no trouble betraying their voters (simply because they know that they have almost infinite opportunity to mess up before Evangelicals will either stop voting or vote for the Democrats).
Watch Out To Whom You Give Your Consent
A vote is a fearful and powerful thing. Be careful with it. As Ambrose Bierce once defined it, a vote is “the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country”.
A vote is consent to governance. It is important to remember, that if you vote for someone, you are consenting to have them govern you. It is a fearful thing to vote for someone for a “pragmatic” reason when you don’t trust them.
Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Treasury once said “Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote”. I think his statement is wrong because: (1) People who don’t vote are withholding their consent, (2) people who do vote are the ones sending politicians to Washington, because they are giving consent. Vote only when you have a reasonable level of confidence in the person for whom you are voting for, because when you vote you are potentially “sending them to Washington”.
In conclusion, remember what John Quincy Adams once said: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone”. And if you can’t vote for principle, don’t vote.
But, most of all, remember that voting and democracy is not your deliverance or your salvation. And neither is it a guarantee of liberty. The great Austrian Economist Fredrich Hayek once said: ”Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom.”